K League foes set to renew rivalry at top Asian club tournament

Bomi Yoon

Pohang Steelers' head coach Kim Gi-dong and the players celebrate their winning at the Pohang Steel Yard in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, in this Nov. 4, 2023 file photo. Yonhap

Pohang Steelers’ head coach Kim Gi-dong and the players celebrate their winning at the Pohang Steel Yard in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, in this Nov. 4, 2023 file photo. Yonhap

Two Korean football rivals will square off this week to begin the knockout stage of the top Asian club tournament, with another team from the country taking on a Japanese foe with an eye on the last eight.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will host Pohang Steelers at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the first leg of the round of 16 at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.

The match kicks off at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, about 200 kilometers south of Seoul. The return leg is next Tuesday at Pohang Steel Yard in Pohang, some 260 kilometers southeast of the capital.

The aggregate score will determine the winner, with no away goals rule in effect.

Pohang defeated Jeonbuk 4-2 to win the Korean FA Cup in November last year. Wednesday’s match will be the first of 2024 for both K League 1 sides, whose club season kicks off on March 1.

Park Tae-ha will be making his Pohang head coaching debut, with his predecessor, Kim Gi-dong, now in charge of FC Seoul.

In addition to Kim, Pohang have also lost a few key players over the winter, with center backs Ha Chang-rae and Alexander Grant, and forwards Kim Seung-dae and Zeca now all plying their trade elsewhere.

Jeonbuk are coming off a disappointing campaign, having finished fourth in the K League 1 — their worst showing since 2008 — and lost out on a chance to win their lone trophy at the FA Cup.

In celebration of their 30th anniversary this year, Jeonbuk have set out to accomplish a “treble” by winning three major trophies — the K League 1, FA Cup and the AFC Champions League.

They have bolstered their squad with signings of veteran midfielder Lee Yeong-jae and forward Tiago Orobo, who finished second in last year’s scoring race with 17 for Daejeon Hana Citizen FC.

Also in the AFC Champions League, Ulsan HD FC will take on Ventforet Kofu of Japan in the first leg at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Their second leg will be in Tokyo on Feb. 21.

Ulsan, winners of the past two K League 1 titles, will have a much different squad this time. They have lost two defenders, Kim Tae-hwan and Jung Seung-hyun, but also signed a handful of new faces, including two Brazilian players in forward Kelvin and midfielder Matheus Sales. (Yonhap)

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